Shelley, who built her career in market research, responded to a need for connection, first among women, now among all those seeking greater diversity and inclusion in an organization called The Female Quotient. She joined us on The Reboot Chronicles to discuss the progress they are making around the world.
If, like me, you have found yourself at large conferences wondering where the diversity is, you would have been surprised and delighted to see Shelley Zalis leading groups of like-minded women across the giant trade halls of CES, the esplanades of Cannes Lion or the conference rooms of the World Economic Forum.. Shelley, who built her career in market research, responded to a need for connection, first among women, now among all those seeking greater diversity and inclusion in an organization called The Female Quotient. From its beginnings as an ad hoc networking organization, the group has expanded to take on representation of women in media and mentorship of the next generations of leaders. What started as “The Girls Lounge” has turned into the “Equality Lounge” and now embraces male attendees as well. Before Covid, it was operating as pop ups at 70 major conferences around the world. I sat down with Shelley to talk about her journey.
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From its beginnings as an ad hoc networking organization, the group has expanded to take on representation of women in media and mentorship of the next generations of leaders. What started as “The Girls Lounge” has turned into the “Equality Lounge” and now embraces male attendees as well. Before Covid, it was operating as pop ups at 70 major conferences around the world. I sat down with Shelley to talk about her journey.
- It’s not about men or women, it’s about leadership. Shelley sees these networking lounges as a safe place to focus on the power of collaboration. Leaders from Fortune 500 come together and collaborate on solutions for change all around policy, pipeline and parity. And while a company alone can have power, collectively, they have impact. With Covid, the idea pivoted to teleconferences and they held over 700 conversations around the world. Not surprisingly, workplace flexibility and caregiving are the big topics.
- Workplace flexibility has to be predictive. We had an interesting conversation about the idea of “3 on 2 off” that is currently being floated around corporations. Of course women, who tend to be the caregivers, would have to be able to adapt their schedules to make this work. One idea is that different teams take the same day, during the week, the same hours so that you can create this predictive flexibility.
- Women are behind the Great Resignation.. Shelley sees so many women leaving fortune 500 companies to start their own businesses. This cohort, especially younger women, want to redefine what success means to them today. It’s not about money but about flexibility and purpose. She recounted how she left a successful career building one of the first truly digital research companies as she wanted to be her own boss, live her own life and create her own rules.
- Shared resources make a difference. Shelley and The Female Quotient act as a shared resource for these women entrepreneurs and offer leads on everything from accounting to legal consulting that are featured in a directory.
- All you need is one yes. I have personally been impressed by the women entrepreneurs I have seen coming up in the last few years who have revolutionized the categories they are in either through product or sales strategy. A favorite example is Jennifer Hyman, the CEO of Rent the Runway, which investors initially thought was a really far fetched idea. Shelley also got this kind of pushback from her own investors but plunged forward, ripped up their deck and created her own. That story brought the “wow factor” into it and resulted in scores of sponsors. As she sees it: “when passion meets purpose, you're unstoppable. There is always a solution, you just have to find it.”
Shelley’s first big win with The Female Quotient is an interesting story. She wanted to really experience CES, the trade show that typically brings nearly 200,000 people to Las Vegas each January to witness the future of tech. Only 3% of attendees are women and it is a not-so-well kept secret that an adult video awards program used to be scheduled concurrently as the audiences overlapped. She didn’t want to feel outnumbered and called a girlfriend to walk the floor with her. They agreed to invite other women they knew. Fifty showed up. As Shelley recounts, “every single guy's head turned thinking ‘Where the hell did all of you women come from?’“ From this experience, she coined the phrase “power of the pack”:
“Collectively we have impact,” says Shelley. “It was so invigorating to show up and not feel invisible. I was surrounded by people just like me. We talked about work life balance, imposter syndrome, all kinds of things that I've always experienced. More business was done in a minute, as we all have power of the purse. We were big badass business women starting to do deals with one another and showing each other technology and it was remarkable. And then 50 women turned into 250. Today we have over 50,000 women in our community that are all business women across 100 countries.”
I salute Shelley and look forward to attending one of her Equality Lounges in the near future.
About the Reboot Chronicles Podcast
Hosted by Dean DeBiase. The Reboot Chronicles is a popular no-holds-barred podcast on iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and YouTube that has been bringing together CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, and global leaders, for over a decade, to discuss how organizations are rebooting their leadership-competitiveness of everything from growth, innovation, and technology to talent, culture, and governance. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts or at https://www.revieve.com/rebootchronicles.
About Dean DeBiase
Named a Growth Guru" by Inc. Magazine, Dean DeBiase is a Faculty Member at Kellogg School of Management and Silicon Valley serial CEO, where he has served in chief executive and chairman roles of more than a dozen emerging growth companies, CEO of Fortune 500 subsidiaries, and a director on public, private, family-enterprise, CVC, PE and VC boards. He is a Technology Fellow at Northwestern University, a Board Leadership Fellow at The National Association of Corporate Directors, and an Advisor to the National Science Foundation. A Forbes Contributor and co-author of the best-selling book The Big Moo, Dean, is working on his next book, Dancing with Startups. Connect with Dean here:www.linkedin.com/in/FollowDean.